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Penn State's coaches do not believe that Saquon Barkley faces any undue risk running back kickoffs.

Penn State’s coaches believe Saquon Barkley will offer many happy returns; others believe it’s too early to assess his Heisman chances

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Risk management

Andrew Callahan of Lions247 writes about a matter raised during the conference call that Penn State running backs coach/special teams coordinator Charles Huff held with reporters on Thursday: How risky it is to have star back Saquon Barkley returning kickoffs?

Huff said that research shows the returner is “probably the safest player outside the kicker on the kickoffs,” and that the risk to a back like Barkley is no greater than that which he faces on a typical running play.

“We’re not idiots,” Huff said, per Callahan.

And, the coach added, “I get it from the outside eye. People just see 11 guys running down at once at one guy. But from a football perspective, it’s no different … To me, it’s all the same.”

Handicapping the Heisman race

Marcus Allen — the former USC running back, not the current Penn State safety — and fellow Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George both told Pennlive.com’s Aaron Carr during a recent appearance in Harrisburg, Pa., that it was too early to assess Barkley’s chances at the award. “The Heisman is not even part of the discussion right now,” George told Carr. “Right now it’s about establishing yourself, playing great in big-time ball games and when those opportunities present themselves the Heisman will take care of itself. He just needs to be the best player on his team and help them win as many games as possible. It’ll all come together.”

Backup plan

Per Tim Owen of Blue White Illustrated, Huff also discussed what it’s like for reserve running backs Miles Sanders, Andre Robinson and Mark Allen, who are behind “one of the better football players on the planet” in Barkley. Huff said he believes the Lions can win with one of the three, but they also grasp the situation better now than in the past. “They’ve got to be able to maximize their opportunities,” Huff said, according to Owen, “while also learning and preparing mentally for the moment when they become the starter or the guy in the game. I think they’re doing a better job of that this season.”

Positive ID

Mike Poorman of Statecollege.com believes that PSU’s current 12-1 streak has allowed the Lions to firmly establish their identity. That means a commitment to big-play offense, as James Franklin said earlier in the week. And it means (as Bruce Springsteen once sang) no retreat, baby, no surrender. That’s why Franklin’s response to the Mike Francesa kerfuffle — taking the stance that his team would never roll over, no matter the situation — came as no surprise to Poorman.

Brandon Smith honored

According to a Big Ten release, linebacker Brandon Smith was named to the Allstate Good Works team, which honors athletes for their community service and selflessness. Smith, the release notes, is the conference’s first representative since 2015, when Ohio State’s Joshua Perry and Penn State’s Ben Kline were named.

Cassie Dunne goes pro

Austin Kurtanich of the Daily Collegian reports that defenseman Cassie Dunne became the first Penn State women’s club hockey player to sign a professional contract when in August she latched on with the Connecticut Whale of the newly formed National Women’s Hockey League.

Also in the Land of 10

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